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Leave it to TV to rob falls act of its suspense

Remember all of those rooms Niagara Falls hotels expected to book for Nik Wallenda's dramatic tightrope walk?

If they really want to protect the tourist attraction's brand, they should offer full refunds to anyone who cancels after finding out the death-defying feat they thought they were coming to see will be nothing of the sort.

In fact, any marketing of Wallenda's June 15 stroll that doesn't include "tethered" before every mention of his name will constitute the biggest fraud since Anonymous.

For those who forget, the public was duped that time into believing the best-selling "Primary Colors" was written by a Clinton White House insider, instead of by a Newsweek columnist.

This time, the public was duped into believing Wallenda would risk all in his walk across the falls in a Friday night special that ABC will stretch into three hours of ads and promos.

Now it turns out that Wallenda will risk no such thing. Instead, he'll wear a safety harness tethered to the wire so that he couldn't fall if he wanted to.

Which means the stunt now should elicit a shrug and the obvious question: What's the point?

The irony, of course, is that the mandate comes from the network, which says the tether is needed because "kids are going to be watching."

Don't make me laugh. Network TV concerned about kids?

Where is the worry about the blood and tissue splattered all over TV -- and all over Buffalo's East Side and Lower West Side? Where is the concern from network honchos about the violence they glorify for profit while setting a cultural norm that other people's kids -- not theirs -- will have to pay for?

No, this is about the fear that advertisers might get squeamish and the network might not make as much money as it's banking on. That's why ABC is eviscerating a once-in-a-lifetime event that New York and Canadian officials went to great lengths to approve.

Of course, anyone arguing against the tether has to reckon with the worst-case scenario, even though I would have been pulling for Wallenda to make it.

How would we feel if he fell? Not as bad as he would.

But that's the whole point. He's willing to take that risk. He believes so much in his skill that he's willing to pay the ultimate price for a mistake, just as his great-grandfather did in a tightrope fall three decades ago.

In a world where the goal seems always to shift responsibility and avoid accountability -- think banking, airlines, etc. -- Wallenda putting it all on the line and accepting the consequences would have been the ultimate reaffirmation of the best of the human spirit.

Our clearest glimpse of that always comes in sport, which is why we're so enthralled by it. I put Wallenda in the same realm as race car drivers, mountain climbers and others who risk all to test their skills. It would have been an inspiring testament to human indomitability.

Leave it to TV to mess that up.

And despite that little voice that wonders if this was the plan all along, I take Wallenda at his word that he really didn't want the safety strap. He seems far more credible than TV executives.

Of course, the daredevil could ditch the harness at the last minutes -- and dare ABC to turn off the cameras in the midst of its own prime-time special.

But then the network probably wouldn't pay him and might even sue him. If this is all about the money -- and it always is -- that's not going to happen.

So we're stuck with what ABC will bill as must-see TV, and what everyone else should call "Fraud at the Falls."

But there is one good thing that will come out of the network mandate that Wallenda be tethered: It means I won't have to waste a Friday night watching television.